Two Mission Bay High seniors named ‘Most Remarkable Teens’
Two Mission Bay High School students are among “San Diego’s 25 Most Remarkable Teens” for 2021.
The local honorees are Sita Antel, a 17-year-old senior and Pacific Beach resident; and Aidan Hallinan, an 18-year-old senior and Linda Vista resident.
The award recipients were recognized during a Nov. 10 ceremony at the San Diego Public Library’s downtown Central Library. The 25 teens were selected by the San Diego County Public Defender Youth Council, which was formed in 2017. The council consists of students from high schools throughout the county plus their public defender attorney advisers. The council focuses on projects that promote civic engagement, officials said.
The “Most Remarkable Teen” program recognizes San Diego youths ages 13-19 for their contributions and efforts in 25 categories. These include environmental advocacy, arts and culture, technology, civic involvement, leadership, courage to overcome adversity and other outstanding accomplishments, officials said. Each teen was interviewed via Zoom and was presented a certificate of recognition at the ceremony.
“Celebrating the contributions of young people is particularly meaningful this year as we are transitioning from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Public Defender Randy Mize. “We received 159 nominations from all over San Diego County documenting inspiring stories of youth demonstrating courage, spirit and unparalleled tenacity during these past 18 months.”
Antel was nominated in the community service category. It was due to the hundreds of hours she has volunteered with the National Park Service starting at age 11. Her efforts include dressing in historically accurate period clothing and serving as a docent at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument.
“I had no idea this was happening,” Antel said of her Remarkable Teen nomination. “I never thought I’d get it.”
Being at the awards ceremony showed Antel how diverse San Diego County is because of the wide variety of reasons teens were recognized, she said.
“I could see my peers from their own communities with their own stories showing how special San Diego is ... how driven are the youth,” Antel said. “I could see what the future holds by what we can do.”
The lifelong history buff said her involvement at the lighthouse began as a fluke. Antel met two volunteers dressed in historical costumes during a street fair. After seeing how interested Antel was in what they did, she said they invited her check out the lighthouse.
“At the time I was one of the youngest history interpreter volunteers in the country,” Antel recalled.
Initially she gave presentations as the lighthouse keeper’s daughter. Now she alternates between portraying a daughter and wife. She not only talks about the lighthouse, but the role of women back in the late 1800s. Being an assistant lightkeeper was one of the first jobs open to women where they received equal pay under the U.S. government, according to Antel.
“I focus on women’s history,” she said. “I love history.”
In August 2020, Antel received the George and Helen Hartzog Youth Service Award, a national honor only given to one youth annually. It was for her contributions to the National Park Service to recognize her work at Cabrillo National Monument for the 19th Amendment’s centennial on the “Forward into Light” exhibit. She also curated a four-day event on a virtual platform that reached more than 500,000 unique viewers.
“Thanks to Sita’s work on the exhibit, the park was able to highlight diverse under-told histories of women,” said Elizabeth Skinner, Cabrillo’s chief of interpretation.
The daughter of Maris Brancheau and Thomas Antel said she credits some of her interest to books her mother read to her during childhood.
“It did a lot to help my imagination and she has been super supportive,” she said.
Antel also credited her years in theater and ballet with helping her portray characters and talk with tourists as a docent. When giving presentations she changes her posture and way of speaking so it reflects that time period.
“My acting (experiences) helped with my confidence, enunciation and being able to capture (attention),” she said.
At Mission Bay High, Antel has played three varsity sports — cross country, water polo and swimming — and been president of Model United Nations, which she started at the campus.
“It’s cool because it introduces kids who might not read or watch the news to geopolitics,” she said.
Antel also competes in Mock Trial and last year her team placed third in the county. She is also treasurer of Women’s Club because “I love women’s rights and it recognizes girls at my school who have made a difference.”
Antel said her aspirations include earning a doctorate in history and having a career as a professor or research historian.
Hallinan was nominated in the mental health activist category. It was due to Hallinan’s efforts to use his personal struggles with mental health to help others. This included creating a three-minute video shown schoolwide at Mission Bay High. The video was later presented to 80 high school counselors in the San Diego Unified School District to help them better understand the mental health problems many teens face, according to award officials.
“It was really well received,” Hallinan said of the video about his mental health struggles, meant to give others insights into a Mission Bay High student.
In addition, Hallinan created the Instagram account Hopesparkk so those worldwide who are dealing with mental health issues can find life-affirming messages and acceptance. It has over 1,700 followers, he said.
“I try not to make it one thing, but a collection of things I find, I really like and people will enjoy,” he said. “Silly random things. Like last year, I took packets of gum, put them on the ground and spelled out LOVE.”
Hallinan said the Remarkable Teen award “means so much to me, but the whole time I doubted myself, asking ‘Did I really deserve it? ... Am I really worthy?’”
Hallinan, the son of Ken Hallinan and Elizabeth Evans, has autism. Because of its effect on understanding social norms and managing social situations, autism can trigger feelings of anxiety, worthlessness and depression, according to his award nomination.
While Hallinan comforted his feelings of isolation through music when he was younger, by age 16 he tried to take his life multiple times, he said.
“Since that time, Aidan has been working tirelessly on his recovery with intensive inpatient and outpatient therapy and a commitment to help as many people as he can so that they do not have to experience what he did,” according to his bio in the ceremony program. “Aidan has made it his mission to help other teens experiencing depression and anxiety by launching a personal campaign on mental health awareness.”
“At 16, I convinced myself I was worthless, that I had no voice, that no one cared,” Hallinan said. “If there is anything I’ve learned in my recovery, it’s that life can and will get better. You never know what someone may be going through, so please always be kind to one another and never be quick to judge or assume.”
Hallinan said he connected with music because he could do so many things with it as a creative outlet. He said playing guitar creates a “magical” experience for him, whether his own music or that of others.
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“It’s an escape to have that there, to feel the lyrics that understand you, that people wrote who understand,” he said.
Hallinan said he relates to a wide variety of music genres, but what really speaks to him is the music of the rock band Linkin Park.
“They are definitely the best,” he said. “I relate so much to their music, they talk about mental health and suicide. The music is so good ... so well done. So creative.”
While his future plans are still being formed, Hallinan said he sees music being a part of it along with opportunities to be creative in any way he can.
“My plan is to keep doing what I am doing by being creative until (my message) gets out there,” he said.